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Wednesday 23 February 2022


I recently mentioned four boxes of discoloured colour slides I came across when scanning in. Several people suggested, and indeed showed, it was not difficult to recover at least something like their original appearance. I said I’d try, but needed to get out an old computer with Photoshop Elements which came bundled free with a scanner. These days they expect you to buy it over and over again with a subscription. I refuse to be treated as an income stream.

I got out the old computer but have not made much progress yet. This is not down to any difficulty with Photoshop, but because of distraction. The old computer also contains a set of PC-Rail signalling simulations.    

They might not sound it, but they’re great, they really are – not because of what you do or see but because of what you imagine. You pretend you are controlling all the trains through York, the noise and the power and the enormity of the things, and imagine being on board, remembering journeys once made.  

It could be the summer of 1983, when they invited me to interview for a research job in the world-famous Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. I travelled up from Hull and back in a day, changing at Selby during its last months as a station on the East Coast Main Line before being bypassed by the coalfield diversion They wanted to offer me the job too – they phoned the same evening – but were then overruled by the funding council who insisted on someone either with or close to finishing a Ph.D.

Or it could be any one of the many other times I’ve been through York by train, up to Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow, visiting clients when I was with the software company, or later, to see students on work placement. I once went to Aberdeen on the overnight sleeper, did what I had to do there, returned the next night and was back at work by 9 a.m.

It’s tricky signalling a path through York for the Scarborough Transpennines. They come in from Leeds on the top left of the above screen and need to get to Platform 4 and the Scarborough line on the bottom right. The screen shot shows train 1B23 (Blackpool to Scarborough) nearly there after crossing the East Coast Main Line just outside the station. I have to be careful not to hold up trains from Doncaster and London. I am being distracted by train 2C26 coming in from Harrogate at the other end of the station (below) where it has to get to Platform 8 without  holding up trains from Newcastle and Edinburgh. Fortunately, it’s not very busy – not yet. 

Sheffield is great, too – quite demanding. You control everything from Dore Junction and the Bradway tunnel south of the station (on the left in the screenshot below), to Meadowhall to the north. You have to put goods trains into loop lines to give priority to the London and Cross Country expresses on the Midland Main Line. Oh to be on the Aberdeen to Penzance!

I’ve been through Sheffield a lot too: south to the East Midlands where the software company was based, north to Leeds, York and beyond, and East towards Doncaster and Hull when I lived and worked there. These days you might find me taking the Barnsley branch home. Mother-in-law used to do it when she travelled up from Hertfordshire and changed trains at Sheffield, complaining it was so much easier when we lived near Nottingham, horrified by the Barnsley accents on the local train and dreading her grandchildren might grow up to speak like that. They got called posh at school.  

The full simulations are not free, but there are evaluation versions which run for thirty minutes or so without charge, which is all I have ever done. With well over a hundred different stations or eras, there is plenty to do. Some are “heritage” simulations which recreate mechanical lever-framed signal boxes communicating with adjacent boxes through working block instruments and bells. I’ve played with quite a lot of them, both modern and heritage, always there personally in the mind’s eye.

Now, what about those photographs.

Friday 18 February 2022

Factorials (or Bonding with Brague)

Dear Bob,

As I am sure you know, the factorial of any positive whole number is that number multiplied by all the numbers between it and 1.

So the factorial of 3 = 1 x 2 x 3 = 6
And the factorial of 5 = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120

I am also sure that, as a computer programmer, you could quickly write a program to calculate the factorial of any number N. One way to do it would be to set up a counter to cycle through all the numbers between 1 and N, multiplying each by a running total that is initially set to 1. In an imaginary programming language it might look like this:

RunningTotal = 1
FOR Counter = 1 to N
Multiply RunningTotal by Counter; (thereby altering the value of RunningTotal)
The factorial of N = RunningTotal

So, in calculating the factorial of 5, each step of the cycle would produce the following values:

 Counter   Multiplication of
 RunningTotal x Counter 
 New Value of
1 1  x  1 1
2 1  x  2 2
3 2  x  3 6
4 6  x  4 24
5 24  x  5 120

But there is a more elegant way. This involves thinking of the factorial of any number N as being that number multiplied by the factorial of N-1.

So the factorial of 3 = 3 x 2 = 6
And the factorial of 5 = 5 x 24 = 120
And the factorial of 6 = 6 x 120 = 720

In our imaginary programming language, the program to calculate factorials using this method might look like this:

The factorial of 1 = 1
The factorial of N = N x the factorial of (N-1)

This is known as a recursive function because it has to re-use itself at each step of the calculation. For example:

The factorial of 5 = 5 x (the factorial of 4)
    The factorial of 4 = 4 x (the factorial of 3)
        The factorial of 3 = 3 x (the factorial of 2)
            The factorial of 2 = 2 x (the factorial of 1)
                The factorial of 1 = 1 (this causes the calculation to “unwind”)
            So, the factorial of 2 = 2 x 1 = 2
        So, the factorial of 3 = 3 x 2 = 6
    So, the factorial of = 4 x 6 = 24
So, the factorial of 5 = 5 x 24 = 120

Isn’t that just exquisite!

Now, for homework, please would you explain the operation of recursive descent parsing giving examples from the Hebrew and Cherokee languages.

Sincerely yours

Monday 14 February 2022


This started out as one of those Google-powered rabbit burrows, beginning with Norma Waterson, the folk singer, who died at the end of January. She was born in ‘ull (American and non-Yorkshire: Hull). Mr YP mentioned her recently, and also, not so long ago, David Bowie’s collaborator Mick Ronson, who was also born in ‘ull. What other singers were born there, we wondered.

It sent me back to my mother’s Light Programme on the wireless in the nineteen-fifties. You would hear Ronnie Hilton singing about a mouse in a windmill with triplets and twins in, going clip-clippety-clop on the stair. He was born in ‘ull. David Whitfield too, the first British singer to have a number one in both Britain and the U.S. with the magnificently emotional Cara Mia.

Dickie Valentine was another of that era. What about him? Well, no, he was from London. What did he sing, then? Finger of Suspicion and Christmas Alphabet. But I thought Christmas Alphabet was by a female American group.

Yes: The McGuire Sisters. I remember them more for Sugartime. It’s on YouTube. Listen to those counter-melodies. Weren’t they good!

What about the Beverley Sisters: that’s near ‘ull. But they weren’t from Beverley; they were from London. Joy, Babs and Teddie. They were good too, and pretty, with distinctive harmonies. Here they are aged 20 and 23 (with 1947 cultural sensibilities): 

The matching qualities, the timbre, of family group voices can make pleasant listening, especially sisters. Take the Dale Sisters: Betty, Hazel and Julie Dunderdale, one of many sister acts that almost made it but not quite. They weren’t quite from ‘ull, but near enough to count. Their dad was a local butcher and Julie married our Geography teacher. They got off the ground in 1959 by winning a talent contest at Butlins holiday camp in Filey. They were also known as the England sisters:

The YouTube links, if you can’t see them are:
McGuire Sisters: 

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Lost Colour - a postscript

After my last post I received an email from Adrian of Adrian's Images explaining how the pictures of the Scarborough let's-play-pirates ship and the Dartmoor ponies could be restored. Yes, even the Dartmoor ponies. Do take a look on his blog at what he did. It's amazing. Following his tips I'll be having another go myself once I get out the old computer that still runs my old version of Photoshop Elements.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Lost Colour

In 1974, I retired my trusty old Kodak Brownie Starmite camera, bought a Zenith E single lens reflex and switched from black and white prints to colour slides. The photographs from that time are still good, even after nearly fifty years. For example, here in the summer of 1974 is my friend’s Hillman Minx being unloaded by crane from the (turbine steamship) T S Leda at Bergen, Norway. It was the ship’s last year as a North Sea ferry before Roll-on/Roll-off came into operation on that route. You watched anxiously as your car was lowered to the quayside.

We had sailed from the Tyne Commission Quay at Newcastle. Only last May, I walked the half mile out to the end of the pier at Tynemouth, which I remember passing on the Leda, and gazed awestruck into the mouth of the Tyne, and at the even longer structure on the South Shields side. All still very much in colour, both photographically and in memory.  

Now look at this one, taken at Scarborough in 2004, which I discovered when scanning in.  

It isn’t a one off; we have four boxes like this, a hundred and forty four washed out pictures, all on Agfachrome from 2004. We have other boxes from the same year on Fujichrome, and others on Agfachrome from before and after, all fine. So far as I can remember, they have not been stored any differently; all have been in a drawer in the same cardboard box. On Steve Reed’s Shadows & Light blog, he even has good slides from the nineteen-fifties.

Some of our affected slides are like this one of wild ponies on Dartmoor. They suggest a reaction with the air, because these were from the centres of the slide boxes. They seem to have degraded from the outside in.

I found a web site,, which explained how the slide below on the left had been restored to the two on its right, but despite playing around with Photoshop, I was unable to restore mine to anything like its original self. Some of the detail seems to have been lost. And you would need much better Photoshop skills than I have to correct slides that still retain colour in the centre but have lost it at the edges. 

Thankfully, it’s only four boxes: we have over a hundred and fifty in all. Is it our fault, or did Agfa change something in 1974? I’ll probably never know.

The slides were from my wife’s camera. She changed to digital in 2006, as I had done in 2001. Here is her picture from last year of the iconic lighthouse at the end of Tynemouth pier, which I remembered seeing from the Leda. Underneath is how the piers look from the air. They shelter the mouth of the Tyne. Incredible! 

Lots of things can go wrong with digital images, but loss of colour is unlikely to be one of them.

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Jokers Wild

New Month Old Post: Barry Cryer, who died last week, is remembered in this not-so-old post from 18th November, 2018

Jokers Wild 1970

Leeds 1970. Mondays. Back to work. Accountancy 8.45 to 5.30. I’d better get used to it because it could be for the next forty or fifty years. One of the older guys could find his own handwriting in ledgers from the nineteen-thirties: like in Cat Stevens’ Matthew and Son.

But there was one good thing about Mondays: Jokers Wild. The show had returned for a second series just after we moved into the first of our shared houses in March, 1970. I could be home for 6.15 when it went out on Yorkshire Television.

Jokers Wild (not to be confused with the American series of the same name) was a classic comedy show in which two teams of comedians competed by telling jokes on topics from cards drawn by Barry Cryer. Bonus points could be scored by interrupting a joke part-way through and completing the punchline. It was pretty much the first British example of many similar show formats: the Mock the Week of fifty years ago.

Old copies of that wonderful provincial newspaper The Yorkshire Post, which at parochial odds with almost every other newspaper and magazine in the country listed Yorkshire Television ahead of the B.B.C., name the regular team captains as Ted Ray and Arthur Askey, with team members Les Dawson and Ray Martine. On the 6th April, 1970, the day my wild-joking accountant boss had wished me a happy new fiscal year (I ashamedly still use that joke every year without fail), they were joined by guests Clive Dunn and Stubby Kaye.

Ray Cameron (father of the present day comedian Michael McIntire), who invented the show, appeared in some episodes. Other regulars and guests read like a who’s-who of British comedy from the last days of music hall to the nineteen-seventies. Many of them smoked cigarettes overtly on-screen. Some are now so gone and forgotten they don’t even have Wikipedia pages.

Jokers Wild Trophy
Barry Cryer with the Jokers Wild Trophy (click to play)
A YouTube clip advertising a DVD of some of the shows has guests Joe Baker and Lance Percival, probably from the 13th or 20th April, 1970. In subsequent weeks the Yorkshire Post lists Jack Douglas (in character as the nervous-tic-suffering Alfred Ippititimus), Ray Fell, Ted Rogers, Graham Stark, Kenneth Connor and Arthur Worsley. Other online clips include Michael Aspel, Warren Mitchell, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Sid James. Wikipedia and IMDb also mention that over its five-year, nine-series run, others on the show included Eric Sykes, Jimmy Edwards, Roy Hudd, Alfred Marks, Professor Stanley Unwin, Norman Collier, Bob Monkhouse, Peter Goodwright, Jack Smethurst, Lennie Bennett, David Nixon, Roy Kinnear, John Cleese, Charlie Chester, Freddie Starr, Michael Bentine, Paul Andrews, Lonnie Donegan, Milo O’Shea, Kenneth Earle, Kenny Cantor, Clement Freud, Mike Hope, Albie Keen, Tony Brandon, John Junkin, Mike Burton, Don Maclean, Bobby Pattinson, Tony Stewart, Dick Bentley, Deryck Guyler, Laurence Harvey, Dickie Henderson, Bernard Bresslaw, Rolf Harris, John Pertwee and Fred Emney. As was the spirit of the time, few women appeared on the show, the only ones listed (including hostesses) being Isabella Rye, Diana Dors, Audrey Jeans, ‘the lovely’ Aimi MacDonald and June Whitfield. I can remember most on the list, but by no means all. Some were actually singers, actors or presenters rather than comedians.

They told a lot of sexist, racist, men-in-pub, wife and mother-in-law jokes. I remember Tim-Brooke Taylor being allowed almost to complete a joke about a town in Devon before Barry Cryer interrupted to remind him that the subject was supposed to be painting. “Oh,” he said sounding surprised. “I thought you said Paignton.” The wonderful and much-underrated Ray Martine, a Polari-speaking, camp Jewish comedian with a reputation for witty and effective put-downs, became more and more ill-at-ease and hesitant as the series progressed. He seemed unable to cope with constant teasing and interruptions, especially from Les Dawson. On one programme he looked so fed up he launched into a stream of jokes about Barry Cryer’s wife, which was taking things a bit too far. Barry Cryer took it with good grace and said that after the break they would be back with more jokes and a letter from his solicitor. And it was all done without a single swear word.

One might also reflect on prominent comedians of the time who were not on the show: no Morecambe and Wise; no Ronnies; no Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams, Dick Emery, Harry Worth, Charlie Drake, Benny Hill or Jimmy Tarbuck; only a minority of Carry-Ons, Pythons, Goodies and Goons; and so many, many others. Perhaps they were too busy, or under exclusive contract to the B.B.C., or maybe it was just not their format.

It was at least a last chance to see some of the older generation: the wartime generation and earlier. Arthur Askey and Fred Emney were over 70 when they appeared, with Ted Ray not much younger. From all of these lists it is astonishing to realise just how many brilliant comedians there have been over the years.

It looks terribly dated now and was probably more scripted than improvised, but it still raises a laugh. The DVDs for Series 1 and 2 are tempting [I later bought the series 2 DVD]. A much better review than this of the first DVD appears here.

Jokers Wild Series 1 Jokers Wild Series 2